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Overhead athletes

How many out there would consider themselves an overhead athlete? I’d say pretty much anyone who picks things up and puts them down will at some point have some repetitive motion over their head. Maybe you play tennis and serve overhand. Maybe you are an Olympic lifter who is regularly throwing up snatches. Or maybe somewhere in between the two. Chances are, this topic could benefit most of us.

The big points in this article are related to the interdependence of multiple portions of the body, specifically how the thoracic spine is a hinge point for most upper body movements. Almost everything of importance has some attachment to the posterior chain here. Going further, injuries of the upper and lower back are often the result of transmitted force and limited flexibility of related joints such as the shoulder. They term this relationship “Regional Interdependence” and includes not just the physical connection between structures, but also the neurophysiologic linkage between the brain and the muscle.

So now to the meat of it, what can we do to improve our overhead motion as well as prevent injury? That is not extremely easy to answer, but for now, let’s just focus on two things: shoulder mobility/stability and thoracic mobility/stability. For mobility, keep that foam roller and lacrosse ball handy and use them regularly. The stability portion comes from keeping a good strong core and working on those small but often forgotten rotator cuff muscles.

Here we have a few examples of different exercises that will help improve overhead stability! Feel free to add them to your warm up or active recovery sessions.

Ruize, J., L. Feigenbaum, T. Best. The thoracic spine in the overhead athlete. Head, Neck, and Spine. 2020. Vol 19, No 1.

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